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Nancy's Story

My name is Nancy Fowlkes and I am a liver transplant survivor. In the fall of 2012 I was a 39 year old full time college student at Tennessee Wesleyan College, mom to 2 kids and a wife. My life was busy and stressful at times but nothing I couldn't handle. In November of that year I started to notice a change in myself. I was tired all of the time, slept a lot, was really anxious, had anger issues, and just couldn't keep up with my school work and life.

By December there were days that I couldn't recall and my once excellent grades had turned into failing ones. I no longer went to class because, quite frankly, I didn't remember to go if I was even awake to do so. I was losing big chunks of time, my memory was terrible and I was having anxiety attacks.


I went to my primary care physician and she ordered some labs on me and prescribed me medication for depression, ordered an ultrasound of my liver, and referred me to a gastroenterologist. The gastroenterologist performed a colonoscopy, which came back clear, and did some more blood work. My lab work came back and I was referred to a gynecological oncologist because I had elevated markers for ovarian cancer.

Several doctors appointments later I was admitted for exploratory surgery to confirm the diagnosis of ovarian cancer on 2/7/2013. They scheduled the surgery a couple of times but cancelled it each time because blood tests done before the surgery showed my blood was not clotting well enough for the surgery to be done safely. Another ultrasound was ordered and a hematologist was consulted who ordered a liver biopsy which indicated cirrhosis from undiagnosed fatty liver disease leading to NASH. I was then transferred 6 hours away to Methodist University Hospital because I was in complete liver failure and deteriorating quickly. The only option was a liver transplant.


The morning after I arrived in Memphis I was moved to the ICU because I was so sick. The fluid in my abdomen was getting worse and fluid was building in my lungs making it hard to breathe. Within two days I was so sick that they put me on a ventilator and sedated me. I was placed on dialysis because my kidneys had stopped working and the doctors told my family that I was so sick that there was a good chance that I would not survive long enough to get a transplant.


After 10 days my condition had improved enough to be taken off the ventilator and start the process of getting on the transplant list. The doctors performed a battery of tests on me in the ICU over the next two weeks and on 3/14/2013 I was officially placed on the transplant list with a MELD score of 41!


The next morning, less than 24 hours later and on my daughter's 13th birthday, I was offered a liver! The surgery went well but they informed us that my colon was enlarged. They would be keeping a close eye on it but I was now on the long road to recovery. The staff had warned us that the sicker you are before transplant, the longer and harder the recovery process would be. They were not exaggerating.


Nine days after my transplant surgery I was taken back into surgery because a scan found air in my abdominal cavity. During the surgery they repaired a perforation in my colon. For the next month I worked with physical therapy in the ICU and got moved to a regular room, but was still unable to hold down any food. On 4/23/3013, on month after my second surgery, I stood for the first time since coming to Methodist, but a scan later that day showed more air in my abdomen and I was taken in for a third surgery. This time they found I had appendicitis, which was the reason for not being able to eat. A few days later I was returned to a regular room but had lost the progress I had made with physical therapy and had to start over.


On 5/10/2013 I was transferred to Health South so I could focus on physical therapy. After a month of therapy I was finally able to walk short distances with a walker, was off dialysis completely and finally was scheduled to go home! On the day I was scheduled to be released, I had developed a low grade fever and was getting sick. Instead of releasing me to go home I was readmitted to Methodist. My condition continued to worsen, my ammonia levels were rising, and one week later I was moved back to the ICU. I had become unresponsive again and a scan revealed a small brain hemorrhage. I regained consciousness after a couple of days of close monitoring in the ICU and was released to go home on 6/24/2013, but my work at Health South had been wiped out and I was again too weak to walk on my own.


After coming home I had to work hard to complete my recovery. I had physical and occupational therapists come to my home daily and I was confined to one room in my house on the lower level until I was able to walk upstairs on my own. I had to learn how to take care of myself again and adjust to life at home because being in a hospital for 5 months takes a toll on a person both mentally and physically. It took a month to be able to gain the strength to get myself out of the wheel chair and walk with a walker.

Eventually I was able to make it upstairs, sleep in my own bed and shower in my own bathroom. I celebrated my 40th birthday that year and it was the best birthday I have ever had! I continued to improve both physically and mentally and was even took a trip back to Methodist in March of 2014 to see all of the wonderful people that cared for me and my family. This visit I walked in and out of the hospital on my own two feet - no gurney or wheel chair was needed.

Along with making a full recovery I was able to see my son Blake graduate from high school and see my daughter start her freshman year. Chris and I celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary in 2014 and I returned to college for the fall semester at TWC. If all goes well I will earn a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice with a minor in Legal Studies and an emphasis on Forensics in the fall of 2015!


There isn't a day that goes by that I don't think about my donor, whoever they might be. Without my donor and the wonderful team of doctors, nurses, medical assistants, social workers, and transplant staff at Methodist University Hospital I would not be here.
Whenever you are at your lowest - don't give up - there is always hope. Find that reason to fight and don't give up!

Page updated: June 21st, 2017

 

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